You’ve got this! Silencing the confidence killers

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Woman speaking to another woman leading a business meeting.

In mid 2020, we officially launched our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee at Kinaxis with the goal of remaining intentional about the programs and initiatives that we offer our employees. As a company, we want to ensure what we offer to employees supports the inclusive work environment and diverse workforce we have. We pride ourselves on saying our “people matter here,” which is why I agreed to be one of the executive sponsors for this committee. As one of only two women on our executive leadership team, I felt the desire to ensure change continues to happen at our company. We have a committee and programs in place, but like many other workplaces there is still room to improve and grow as an organization. As individuals, and as people leaders and managers, we can help create an environment that fosters and encourages our employees to break through the confidence killers that keep them from doing things like speaking up, raising their hands for opportunities, and standing up for themselves and others.

Not only does workforce diversity benefit employees individually, studies show it “can help companies evolve, innovate, problem-solve, and be more efficient. Moreover, highly diverse workplaces offer employees a better sense of community, increased worker engagement, and a more positive corporate culture.” (source) Additionally, it can have a major impact on the company's bottom line. Forbes reports on a study that found companies can see an increase in their revenue when they increase the diversity of their workforce. They noted that “[these findings] show that diversity is not just a metric to be strived for, it is actually an integral part of a successful revenue generating business.” The same idea is highlighted in this Catalyst research, noting that workforces that are diverse, both in gender and ethnicity, see an increase in revenue compared to those that have a more homogeneous employee base.

Yet, as I participate in these DEI Committee meetings, the same sentiment continues to permeate the dialogue - a fear of speaking up and speaking out, of being an advocate for your own ideas and those of others. I feel frustrated that these strong and successful employees feel insecure about approaching their peers and leaders. My personal experience at large and small companies, leading and managing teams of different sizes in both Canada and the US, has shown me that this issue with confident behavior and personal advocacy is a pattern amongst women and minorities.  As such, in honor of International Women’s Day, I am encouraging you to speak up, raise your hand, and not be shy to shut down that proverbial “man-splainer.” You’ve got this, and I’ve got your back.

Speak up

As a leader, I am aware that it is hard for some people to use their voice and speak up in certain spaces, especially these days as we live in a world of screens and digital communication. It is easy to feel hidden and forgotten about, especially in our digital world. What everyone needs to keep in mind is that you have already earned your place in the room or at the table or on the stage.

Taking that into consideration, I encourage everyone, especially women and people of color, to keep the notion of “establishing presence” in mind and incorporate these few behaviors during their next meeting. Try actively speaking in meetings, displaying confident body language, projecting one’s voice, communicating with directness and clarity of speech, asserting oneself and promoting one’s own ideas or work. These behaviors, often demonstrated by men in the workforce, are associated with confidence, authority and trustworthiness. Because men are seen using these actions more, and they are presumed to be indicators of one’s confidence, we perceive a confidence gap between men and women.

Speaking up may feel daunting at first, so start with comments or specific updates, respond to a simple question, or provide support for someone else’s idea. Like many other things, the more you do it, the easier it will become!

Raise your hand! Apply for the job you’re not (yet) qualified for

We know that women and men do not view job applications the same. According to a recent study by LinkedIn women apply to 20 percent fewer jobs than their male counterparts. Men are confident about their ability if they meet 60 percent of requirements in a job ad, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.

Tara Sophia Mohr, author and expert on women’s leadership and well-being, points out in the Harvard Business Review that women often get stuck on the required qualifications, they implicitly assume they are the essential requirements for that job. She also makes the great note that we, as women, often don’t “see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications."

This point is so important: the hiring process is just that, a process. Anything you may lack on paper is what you bring to the interview: relevant transferable skills, willingness and ability to learn, enthusiasm about the company and role.

Women are socialized to follow rules more than men are, which means when it comes to something like applying for a job, we consider requirements inflexible, which they aren’t most of the time. If you can check off many of the requirements on a job application, consider the rest “nice to haves” and think about how the other skills and experience you have can transfer to those aspects of the job.

The above LinkedIn study interestingly notes that even though women apply to fewer jobs than men, they are still 16 percent more likely to get hired. The same is said for senior roles, for which women are 18 percent more likely to get hired than men. While one could come to the conclusion that they are getting hired more because they are applying for jobs they're more qualified for, let’s consider the rate of success women would have if we applied for jobs at the same rate as men, jobs we’re still qualified for even if we don’t check off every box. The old adage “the worst they can say is no” remains relevant and is a good reminder that it’s worth the risk.

Shut down proverbial mansplaining

In the process of speaking up in the workplace and asking for things like a raise, many people will experience the phenomenon of “man-splaining” or “he-peating.” This recent Washington Post article even describes the perpetuance of “man-ologues” in many professional meeting settings.  While “man-splaining” is a problem many women have faced in both the professional and personal realms from the men in their circles, it is not a habit that only men must own up to. This tactic of undermining someone else’s authority or expertise is far too common and even more likely to be used against women, people of color, and other visible minorities as well. 

Be an ally when you can. Circle back to people that have been skipped/spoken over in meetings or invite and encourage individuals that may be hesitant to speak up or share in meetings to do so. Use phrases like:

  • “That was a great addition to what Jenn was speaking about earlier. Maybe she can elaborate more on her ideas?”
  • “I don’t think Tina was finished with her thought, I'm sure we’d all love to hear what else she has to share.”
  • “Ahmed, I know you’ve been doing research on this recently, do you have any findings to share with the group?”
  • “Steve, Jackie actually just said that exact thing, perhaps you didn’t hear her. I’m sure she can explain it in greater detail for everyone.”

Whether the instinct to ignore someone's expertise in an area is intentional or not, it can be unlearned. I encourage everyone to consciously monitor their own behaviors, and the behaviors of colleagues, to see what you can do to modify your own behavior or to stand up for others in your workplace.

Confidence is what we all need to take our thoughts and turn them into actions. When it comes to making a decision like applying for a job or speaking up in a meeting, the only person stopping you is you. But you are where you are because of your experience, skills, and knowledge; you have already earned your place at the table. When you don’t take every opportunity in front of you, you’re robbing yourself of a chance at success. By speaking up for yourself, you also set an example for others, that they can take up space where they are. These actions can go a long way in creating change for yourself and for those around you in the workplace. You’ve got this!

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